How do our Ancestors Speak to Us?

OpalAverage Read time: 7 minutes

My apologies! I’m sorry that I have not officially introduced you. My people, meet Opal. Opal, my people. Yep, Opal is the name of my ever-so-trusty fern-green PCT backpack. Nearly two months have passed since I stepped off the trail, yet, on many of early AM walks under the streetlight glow-orbs to yoga class I find myself saying, “Good morning Opal.” A morning ritual of mine when on the trail.

Even now, my blue-teal bandana from my trail days almost always comes with me when I leave the house. This square piece of cloth (a $2 find in the Village Merchant’s scarf bin) was the only piece of gear I almost lost. Not even 5 minutes after leaving it behind, I knew something was missing. I used it for everything. No joke. Blowing my nose, washing my face at night, bathing my body, as a neck warmer, sun protection, wind guard, pee rag. Everything.

Carrying my permanently stained and sooted bandana and allowing for my daily ritual of greeting my backpack reminds me that I have been somewhere.

I know we all experience this as we leave a place, person, and/or community behind (whether it be from grief or joy or anything in between) when our hearts have been greatly moved and shaped by where we’ve allowed ourselves to trust and go…and let go. Right now I am appreciating these items as a reminder that I have such stories inside of me that others could never know. I listen closely. How do you want to be honored, wild one? This time of integration continues to mold what comes through me as we move towards winter’s warm fire and dim-fertile ground. In this, much is rolling on the business front! AND…I will save this update for another post.

Crossing Thresholds

By the time you read this, we will have crossed many thresholds together. The threshold of Samhain (Gaelic holiday), Día de los Muertos (Mexican holiday), many other global darkening-day ancestral traditions, a full sun’s turn from last year’s Presidential election, the final days of harvest, putting our gardens to rest, and the turning to meet winter’s call.

A few years back, someone shared with me a celebration that Wendy Johnson and the community at Green Gulch Farm/San Francisco Zen Center create this time of year. As I recall, the community gathers at the farm. For as much time as it takes, they collectively gather representatives of all the withered, ugly, wrinkled, well-spent, and beautifully crone-like plants and place them on a portable mantle. When all have been gathered, the human community picks up the mantle full of our plant relatives and parade around the garden; all are cheering for the beauty, wisdom, and purpose of this moment of death and release in the circle of seasons. This is the time we can fully embrace letting go of so much outward expression, color, and elegant beauty and send our sense of self and our energy naturally down into the darkness of our roots and bones. And there, for the coming season, we remain.

Ancestors & Altars


I love this season. The slowing spells out a time to come in close to our ancestors and listen to the whispers that find us; to watch the dancing flame of the candle.

Has anyone else been delighted by the rise of community conversations about ancestral connection recently? A few weeks back I read a series of blog posts by one of my Ministry mentors, Omileye Achikeobi-Lewis, on spiritual colonialism (find the first in the series of posts here). This was followed by rich conversations with several others on creative and inspired ways to honor our personal connection to well ancestors.

Omi’s posts gratefully stirred up questions, grief, apologies, and a reminder that my work is to set-down any hunger to feast on other’s spiritual traditions as a way to belong or feel more full in my humanity and to stay with the challenge of calling back my own ancestral/indigenous traditions. A huge part of this is trusting with so few visible teachers or community (starting specifically in the Celtic/Druid spiritual communities as I am officially 55% Irish according to my new DNA results!), that my ancestors are here with me. I am learning to trust the intuitive channels I use for receiving and sharing information as a tried and true language to connect with my ancestors. Honoring that this conversation is indeed happening offers a winding pathway to explore what this remembering looks like.

There is so much that can be said here. For now, I simply want to note that the grief I feel (and hear from fellow Euro-Americans whose families are disconnected from their sense of having roots or a homeland) must be accounted for when calculating the cost of privilege. Our colonial-capitalist-patriarchal-misogynistic setting on our national family dining table needs my own voice of grief, anger, and loss for what my own lineage has chosen to forget. In this forgetting, my ancestors have been able to commit and tolerate horrendous inner and outer pain and suffering. One’s own heart must be enslaved in order to enslave another. I feel this perspective to be a distinct contrast from simply doing the work as an expression of reparations for something that happened in the past to someone else. If we feel it, it is happening now. Then, apologies, which are oh-so-precious, can come from a mutual place of loss and connection, rather than a perpetuation of right/wrong “I owe you” stories. Our tears water parched ground.

leahw_biz-18-e1510591479190.jpgI feel new to expressing these ideas out loud, so please know I would be grateful to hear if I step on toes or have a blind spot (As much as I do my work, I have lots of them!).

As I’ve hungered to learn more about my ancestral lineage, I’ve created and tended a family altar that changes as it speaks to me. However, this time of year, it feels most alive and I’ve been pulled into exploring a more elaborate and consistent honoring of these connections. I don’t always have a sense of how to express this…or how to even imagine all of those I am calling upon so I just let whatever comes come and honor it as a living question. I find it quite intimidating, humbling, and empowering all at once.

I recently read this blog post, which gratefully offered a clear perspective on who besides blood relatives I might consider calling upon when I use the word “ancestor.” Just before this, I started an Ancestry Journal. It is a small notebook set it by my altar and daily Hands holding Acornsmeditation seat. When things “pop in” to my mind that feels like it belongs in the book, I write it down. An example:  I just learned that the word druid is translated to mean “oak-knower” or “Knowing [or Finding] the Oak Tree.” Might this help explain my unexpected love and preoccupation with Oaks and acorns the past several years?! Curious to see tracking these pieces weaves a web over time that helps me see patterns. It has been so fun to learn some basic Irish reels (**My paternal grandmother’s last name was Reel) in my mandolin lessons and watch how this music feels to my spirit. I’ve also enjoyed offering a spirit plate to my ancestors as I serve and enjoy my own meal (thanks Michelle for this reminder!).  I have always loved this, yet it has been years since I had it as a practice.

Do you honor your family ancestry this time of year? Or ancestors of your land or spiritual lineage? How do your ancestors speak to you? Or you to them? If inspired to share any reflections here, please do as a richness for all of us.

Walking in our Ancestors Shoes

Snake Womb2_FotorAt this threshold, which feels like a collision of remembering the summer days on the trail and loving the richness of being planted and still for this season, I’ve started writing a poem exploring the layers of why I walk. It has been a seed in me since I started walking and finding this embodied step-by-step rhythm early this summer. I look forward to sharing this in the next post…where we will be even deeper under winter’s covers.

Today, I write from a place of gratitude for our bodies, this density that makes us human, the dim-glow of decomposition, and all our ancestors that have devoted so much to guide us to this very moment. For all of this, I give my service and love.

**Note: I’ve experimented here with a short list of highlights/links. I am playing with how to share briefly some of the riches I find in my weeks in between posts. You can expect to find this at the end of my posts in the coming month as I see how it feels.

Here’s What’s On My Menu

Reading: The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff

Listening: Emily Saliers, Murmuration Nation, OK Corral

Joy: Danica Roem, gender fluidity & cracks in the foundation of…well…almost everything

Creative Expression: This inspiring and super creative way to honor ancestors of blood, tradition, and land

Concern: Plastic Recycling in the USA

Circulate Good: Support the spirited work of This Amazing Woman

Hungry for: **inspiration here from Rachel Cole Love her work!

Quotey-Goodness to Send Us on Our Way

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

-David Orr, Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World

I'm throwing leaves up in the air with a goofy delight on my face.

Photo Credits: Sara Burbidge of Totally Hyena (


6 thoughts on “How do our Ancestors Speak to Us?

  1. So much in this piece…. I look forward to time to talk together in these near days.
    I have brought with me ancestry information to share~
    Love ending with David Orr’s quote… one of my favorites.
    Grateful for your bright light!
    tu mama’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My goodness; such depth and invocation. Thank you! Where did you track your DNA ancestral lineage?
    It is most certainly arising in our community; deep listening, keen observation of generational”programs.” We are rewriting the past in communing with our ancestors of the past, choosing to choose anew, freeing our future…..such deep sacred work.
    Thank you for this beautiful contribution!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Melissa, I am continually SO grateful for the ways I get to share in the unfolding of your own ancestral healing story. Always very powerful reflections for me! After our last call, I’ve been thinking about how the process of connecting with my original sense of creativity (muses, creative genius, inspiration) is very similar if not the same process as the ways I set the intention to listen and move with my well ancestors. I trust there is overlap here, too (!), which is really amazing to consider. More to hold in prayer. I did my DNA test with Ancestry DNA. The results were underwhelming (I expected more detail) and also quite useful.


  3. Leah – Beautiful!! I smile as I hear of “Opal” and how you have created such a wonderful story and connection to this structure of fabric and steel!! Reminds me of Grandma and “Charlie” = her metal walker! Of course, “Charlie” had to be decorated (Gussied up!) it was a special part of her life!! Always fun in intimate settings, such as an elevator, as Grandma made sure everyone on board was introduced to “Charlie”!! – The +positive+ connection you feel to the world around you is an inspiration!! Looking forward to immersing myself into your blog as you continue this journey!! – Getting ready for our Thanksgiving time together!😊💗

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dad, I love this reminder of Grandma and Charlie! Such a great story as we talk about ancestry. There are so many moments when I feel Grandma not just “close by” but literally “in me.” This is especially true when I feel my spirit strengthen due to a challenge I am working with AND when I become a major grammar-geek and am meticulous about getting it “all right.” Know you understand! So grateful to share this space with you…and more time in person soon. ❤


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